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Lincoln Issues Proclamation Suspending Habeas Corpus Rights

President, military defied Supreme Court

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President Abraham Lincoln
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Along with a declaring martial law, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the suspension of the constitutionally protected right to writs of habeas corpus in 1861, shortly after the start of the American Civil War. At the time, the suspension applied only in Maryland and parts of the Midwestern states.

In response to the arrest of Maryland secessionist John Merryman by Union troops, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney defied Lincoln's order and issued a writ of habeas corpus demanding that the U.S. Military bring Merryman before the Supreme Court. When Lincoln and the military refused to honor the writ, Chief Justice Taney in Ex-parte MERRYMAN declared Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional. Lincoln and the military ignored Taney's ruling.

On Sept. 24, 1862, President Lincoln issued the following proclamation suspending the right to writs of habeas corpus nationwide.

    BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:

    A PROCLAMATION

    Whereas, it has become necessary to call into service not only volunteers but also portions of the militia of the States by draft in order to suppress the insurrection existing in the United States, and disloyal persons are not adequately restrained by the ordinary processes of law from hindering this measure and from giving aid and comfort in various ways to the insurrection;

    Now, therefore, be it ordered, first, that during the existing insurrection and as a necessary measure for suppressing the same, all Rebels and Insurgents, their aiders and abettors within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by Courts Martial or Military Commission:

    Second. That the Writ of Habeas Corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested, or who are now, or hereafter during the rebellion shall be, imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison, or other place of confinement by any military authority of by the sentence of any Court Martial or Military Commission.

    In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

    Done at the City of Washington this twenty fourth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the 87th.

    ABRAHAM LINCOLN

    By the President:

    WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

What is a Writ of Habeas Corpus?
A writ of habeas corpus is a judicially enforceable order issued by a court of law to a prison official ordering that a prisoner be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that prisoner had been lawfully imprisoned and, if not, whether he or she should be released from custody. A habeas corpus petition is a petition filed with a court by a person who objects to his own or another's detention or imprisonment. The petition must show that the court ordering the detention or imprisonment made a legal or factual error. The right of habeas corpus is the constitutionally bestowed right of a person to present evidence before a court that he or she has been wrongly imprisoned.

Where Our Right of Habeas Corpus Comes From
The right of writs of habeas corpus are granted in Article I, Section 9, clause 2 of the Constitution, which states, "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

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